Pseudomonas infection

Pseudomonas is a type of bacterium that can cause lung infections. It mainly affects people who already have a lung condition or who have a problem with their immune system.

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Pseudomonas is pronounced: suu-doh-moan-as

What is Pseudomonas?

Pseudomonas is a common type of bacteria usually found in soil and water. It rarely causes problems in people with healthy lungs.

Pseudomonas can be difficult to treat, as it doesn’t respond to commonly-used antibiotics, like penicillin, doxycycline and erythromycin. You may need to take different antibiotics if you have Pseudomonas.

Sometimes antibiotics are unable to clear Pseudomonas from the lungs. When this happens, you may need to have long-term oral or inhaled antibiotic treatment to keep the bacteria at a low level.

Sometimes people carry Pseudomonas in their lungs without causing issues. This means it’s not always necessary to have treatment.

What infections does Pseudomonas cause?

Pseudomonas bacteria can cause a variety of infections, including:

Who is at risk of a Pseudomonas infection?

People more likely to get a Pseudomonas infection include those with long-term conditions like:

If you have a long-term lung condition, it’s important to try and treat Pseudomonas when it is first found, to prevent it from becoming long term.

Pseudomonas can also cause an infection in people with problems with their immune system.

If you have a lung condition and have repeated chest infections, or chest infections that don’t go away with your usual treatment, ask your health care professional about having a test to see if you have Pseudomonas in your mucus.

How is a Pseudomonas infection diagnosed?

A sample will be taken from your lungs to see if Pseudomonas is present. This is usually through a mucus sample. But occasionally you may have a bronchoscopy, when a narrow tube is inserted through your nose or mouth, down into your lungs.

How is a Pseudomonas infection treated?

If you have a Pseudomonas infection, it can usually be treated effectively with antibiotics. But sometimes the infection can be difficult to clear completely.

This is because many standard antibiotics don’t work on Pseudomonas. One type of tablet that works is ciprofloxacin; other antibiotics in the same group whose names end in -floxacin are also effective. This kind of antibiotic can occasionally cause tendon problems – if you start to get heel pain while taking it, stop the medication and let your health care professional know immediately.

It's important to finish your antibiotic course because:

  • bacteria can become resistant to the antibiotics, making it harder to treat
  • you may need to take more medication
  • you may need to have injections as well as tablets.

If your infection is resistant to ciprofloxacin (or another antibiotic ending in - floxacin), or you can’t take it because of side effects, you may need to have antibiotics given through a needle into a vein.

If you have a long-term Pseudomonas infection that keeps coming back despite antibiotics, you may need to take antibiotics on a regular long-term basis. This is to keep the infection at a low level and to prevent flare-ups of your symptoms. This is usually prescribed by a consultant and you’ll have regular reviews. This might include tablets or inhaled antibiotics taken through inhalers or a nebuliser.

How can I avoid a Pseudomonas infection?

The main thing you can do is follow good hygiene rules. Regularly wash your hands with soap and water, always cough into a tissue, clean surfaces with an anti-bacterial cleaner, and wash your clothes and sheets separately at the highest possible temperature. If you smoke, it’s important to stop smoking, as it damages your lung’s immune defences.

Pseudomonas grow in mucus, so keeping your airways clear makes it harder for the bacteria to grow. Ask your health care professional about seeing a physiotherapist, who can recommend airway clearance techniques.

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